Rural life

Why didn’t anyone tell me about the Hudson River Valley? What a beautiful, well-kept secret. Now that I’ve brought it to your attention, visitors by the millions will flock there–aside from Manhattanites who do seem to know about it, buying up old homes in towns along the river and renovating them into stylish weekend retreats. I rented a house in Red Hook for my birthday week, packed up the cat (no, into the crate) and headed west. A mere three hours later, we turned onto a dirt road with no street sign, signaled by a row of mailboxes on the main road, and bumped a slow mile to the end and where the house stood nestled in the deep woods. A deer welcomed us into the yard, then bounded away down to the creek flowing under an old trestle bridge. The place promised solitude and darkness and delivered both. The instructions said to bring a flashlight if arriving after dark; had I arrived in the dark, I probably wouldn’t have made it halfway down the road before turning around, terrified.

I took a leisurely drive (while it was still daylight, mind you) around the area dotted by farmland and thick with wildlife. Painted homemade signs announced farm stands or baby goats every few miles. Fresh farm breakfasts and pies abounded. Well, when in Rome.

Greig Farm

Gigi Market

Farm chickens

Deer in the backyard

Lunch bliss

Eighty degrees and blue skies. The lunch hour spreads itself wide. I take the subway two stops to Copley.

Dining Car food truck’s special: Mediterranean Chicken sandwich with hummus.

Eating in the park with a background of farmers’ market chatter and a guitarist strumming a catchy tune. A picnicker dances.

Anthropologie sale and birthday month discount on this cute notepad that reminds me of second grade. Can’t wait to make a To Do list.

Love the life you’re with

If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. -Albert Camus, writer, philosopher, Nobel laureate (1913-1960)

In other words, stop your whining and appreciate the life you have. Look around and acknowledge not just the flowers but the insects, not just your progress but the setbacks, not just the sun but the snow. OK, still working on that last one. It’s April and it’s snowing in Boston, so we get a pass.

Dreaming your life away

Deep thought, by Nat Hawthorne

We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death. -Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer (1804-1864)

Whoa. Life could be like Dallas.

It’s natural to be afraid of death, but ponder this.

Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when you were not: that gives us no concern. Why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? To die is only to be as we were before we were born. -William Hazlitt, essayist (1778-1830)

And because I like you, one last quote:

Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills. -Voltaire, philosopher and writer (1694-1778)

The return of House

House returns tonight. Finally.

I like watching that House fellow solve medical mysteries in that formula that never varies: act disinterested in patient, flirt with Cuddy, belittle the team, have a revelation while talking to Wilson.

And I like cotton candy.

Ergo, I like watching House through a haze of cotton candy.

Snow: before and after

It has been snowing here in New England for nearly 15 hours straight. It’s pretty for the first 12 hours when you’re lounging around in your pajamas, enjoying your free day off of work until you realize that 1) the day off serves only to allow you just enough time to shovel out so you can make it to work the next day, and 2) shoveling sucks.

It’s great if you like winter sports and don’t mind the cold. It’s hell if you don’t like hats.

My blog friend Kim posted that she was jealous about the snow out here. Kim lives in sunny California. If I were to say that out loud, you would hear an edge in my voice called bitterness. Don’t make me come out there, Kim, and beat you with my shovel. Don’t worry, I can’t even open my gate.

I know most Before and After photo sets really make you appreciate the after. This is not one of those.

My patio before and after:



Die, trees, die!

I didn’t buy a Christmas tree this year, but I think I will next year, if only so I can throw it on the pyre that Salem has for its dried-up pines. No, not very green, but the bonfire is a community event that draws a crowd to Dead Horse Beach (answer: no) with music, hot chocolate, and burning trees—definitely a step up from burning witches.

I had a cool video of the night, but it seems it’s impossible to get it on here; instead, picture flames rising over the harbor, while you take in a smoky breath, and hear Ring of Fire playing in the background.


New Year nature

One year, my friend and I took a rejuvenating hike on New Year’s Day, and as the snow softly fell on our fuzzy hats, it felt like the perfect way to embrace the new year. Of course, it might have been the free hot chocolate.

This year, with California temps and snow on the ground on New Year’s Day, another friend and I took to the woods with our new snowshoes. After tromping around on packed snow and not quite hitting our stride, we noticed we were being lapped by walkers.

“Christmas present?” one guy asked.

“Yup,” I said. “From last year.”

One shoe kept bumping into the other and I stepped on myself more than once. About a mile in, we took off the blasted things and walked back, vowing to try them in new fallen snow—where they’re meant to be used and could be quite enjoyable—while at the same time hoping that we never have that much snow again. In the meantime, they’re handy for getting to your car in a storm.

Anyway, I like the idea of layering up and getting outdoors on New Year’s Day with the promise of a whole year stretching ahead like a long path in the woods. I like spotting deer tracks, and red berries on the white snow, and discovering intriguing creature hideaways like this hollow:

Hello, in there

Just makes you want to crawl inside with a stash of acorns and hibernate until spring.

New year, new resolutions

I like New Year’s Eve more for the opportunity to reflect on my year and think about improvements for the year ahead and less for watching Ryan Seacrest and NKOTB be showered with confetti as a jewel the size of a engagement ring fit for a housewife of Beverly Hills drops from the sky.

When I review my resolutions from last year, I think the report card might read Good student but needs to apply herself. I vowed to eat more salads, something I rebelled against just a few short years ago. Vegetables? Yuck. But after realizing that these do not have to be  wholesale iceberg lettuce and watery tomato affairs, I’ve embraced salads.

I also committed to reading more books outside of my comfort zone, which I’d say was more or less accomplished. I tried and failed to read a young adult novel, but I did succeed in revisiting the classics, delving into Henry James and Nabokov. Apparently though, the third time is not the charm for To the Lighthouse.

My third resolution was one I like to keep around year to year: to have more experiences. Basically, this means saying yes to more things. Hard to assess that one: I try to be more open to experiences but then I just love nesting, which is the polar opposite. New experiences rarely involve pajamas.

In addition to building on the old resolutions that I find take about two years to take root, I resolve to do the following in 2011:

  • Be more decisive. I’ve spent multiple hours looking for the perfect calendar, for example. This year, I went to Border’s and bought a sock monkey calendar. It’s cute and it will work just fine.

  • Maintain better eye contact. I don’t like to be that weird person that stares a lot (see monkey above), but I could improve my connections.
  • Get to bed by 11:00. Avoid the black hole of the computer and TV.
  • I will no longer read the comments section on online articles. Because I have a life and those people don’t.

What do you commit to do? What about making a linguistic resolution and finally rid yourself of those lazy filler words and crutches. Like, whatever.

How about using that noggin’? Oliver Sacks reminds us in this New York Times article that your brain needs attention too. Try something new; experiment with a new art medium or just take a different route to work. Cognitive fitness is just as important as physical fitness—and it usually involves less sweating.

The Summer Day

During a yoga retreat this fall, the instructor read us a Mary Oliver poem during savasana, which, when you think about it, might be the best time to receive a poem. In a relaxed, supine position, you can let a poem wash over you and consider it in a way that is not academic; you can simply experience it. I especially love that the theme is partly about summer, a blissful season. Even the word suggests a certain sparkle and warmth and sunshine. So, on this especially cold day of winter, I give you a taste of summer.

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

So readers, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Will you kneel down in the grass, stroll through the fields, or snap your wings open? Will you take a chance, write your own poem, or enjoy each moment for what it is: a moment?

Weekend ingredients

Every weekend should involve equal parts art, friends, food, exercise, books, and lounging. Weekends are short, but sometimes the stars align and the ingredients come together. On Friday, I attended an art reception where a friend had a pastel on exhibit that she made using Craypas she scored at my yard sale and that I must have had since high school. She’s an artist, you know; I don’t know if she knows this for sure, so I’ve been demanding that she introduce herself to people by saying, “Hello, my name is Helena, and I am a kick-ass artist.” Also, she got all my SARK books when I moved, so she’s super inspired and better start selling her work so I can say I knew her when. The exhibit was a juried collection of work by students who have taken a class at the Arlington Center for the Arts, and truly, the work surpassed that of the MFA student exhibit that I attended last week.

On Saturday, I dinnered with seven fabulous women, and as we were passing the sweet potatoes and spoonbread, I thought, We could rule the world.

Sunday involved a brisk hike along the river that turned into more of a walk since there was no uphill. A hill is required for a walk to be considered a hike, right? If you walk fast enough though, you can achieve semi-warmth, even in 30-degree weather, if you wear three shirts. The lure of the used book store sale (half off everything) resulted in two new novels with sublime opening paragraphs. Then, gorging on chicken wings and Northern Exposure episodes.

Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream

I just read this fascinating book about a day in the life of your body. Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream by Jennifer Ackerman weaves a host of scientific studies on everything from pain to sleep cycles into a readable narrative, putting each study, blissfully, in layman’s terms. Some handy practical knowledge can be gleaned from this book: your pain threshold is highest in the afternoon, so it’s best to schedule dentist visits then; the time of day you take medication or have chemotherapy can affect the results; having sex before a big presentation can calm the nerves.

The benefits of exercise have never been clearer to me or more well-argued than in this book. We all know exercise is important, but to hear the exhaustive list of why is a compelling reminder. Exercise aids weight loss, of course, but also concentration, sleep, brain function, mood. You might say it’s a wonder drug—one that requires a bit more effort than swallowing a pill, but a wonder drug nonetheless.

The coolest fact? A theory behind that jolt you occasionally experience as you’re drifting off to sleep. Ackerman says that the “spasm . . . is more frequent in adults than in children, and more common in people who are nervous or overtired. Some evolutionary biologists speculate that the hypnic jerk may be a reflex left over from arboreal ancestors—useful in avoiding a slip from a sleeping perch.” Cool.

sex sleep eat drink dream

Vacation goals: none


SD Backyard Hammock

Originally uploaded by bowena

I know the cool thing to do this year is to take a staycation, but too late. I’ve booked a good, old-fashioned vacation-vacation. Plus, that word—staycation—destined to become the word of the year (last year’s was locavore: someone who eats locally grown food), is annoying.

So, I’m packing up and heading north today to a cottage in midcoast Maine to enjoy the opposite of a jam-packed week. No phone. No computer. First on the agenda, unload the stack of books I’ve been saving for vacation. This is no time to read classics, but I don’t go in for beach reads either. Cost by Roxana Robinson is first up, then Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger. Three books should do it, but if it rains every day and I finish them, well, that’s a perfect excuse to visit my favorite bookstore Down East: Rock City Books and Cafe in Rockland, Maine.

Next, I have to hit the farmers’ market in Belfast and stock up on good food to cook. At some point, I’ll take a drive along the coast, stopping for seafood or at an interesting coffeehouse. But I don’t want to tax myself. So, mostly I have to make sure the Adirondack chair or hammock is optimally placed for a view of the lake. Then I have to kick back with the stack of books within easy reach and not move for hours.

Mom vs. Mother Nature

Happy Mother’s Day mom–and to Mother Nature, the biggest mother of all. Let’s watch as they duke it out to see who’s most deserving.

In this corner, we have my mom who regularly baked chocolate chip cookies for my sister and me to snack on after school. Homemade, thank you very much. Large batches. One beater for each of us.

In this corner, we have Mother Nature who busts out the occasional rainbow. Pretty, but drawn to death by third graders who fancy unicorns.

Mom would randomly call into school to say I was sick so we could go out shopping for the day. Jordan Marsh was the it place.

Mother Nature provides rain, consistently providing me with bad hair days.

Mom saved my unimaginative artwork and short stories that featured unrealistic, one-dimensional animal characters. She treasured them anyway.

Mother Nature brings flowers; then they die.

Mom would sing along with me to the most ridiculous songs on Sesame Street like the one about the girl taking her llama to the dentist which featured the super catchy refrain: “Me and my llama; me and my llama, going to the dentist to-da-a-a-ay…” Watch the video; I dare you not to sing.

Mother Nature offers up kittens and koala bears, but she also sticks you with smelly animals like llamas with bad teeth.

Mom was the master of a dish we called Favorite Chicken. Secret recipe. Sorry.

Mother Nature also provides food; unfortunately, most of it is green and leafy. Seriously, you can’t win with vegetables.